Underrated And Overleveled
This trope is a variant of Gameplay and Story Segregation
in which a character is more powerful in actual combat than is justified within the story. A character is 'underrated' any time he would reasonably be expected to be weaker than his allies according to plot, whether this is due to lack of training, being too young/old for combat, using outdated/weaker weaponry, other characters commenting on this character being weaker and/or less skilled, or any other reason that would leave the audience questioning the character's strength.
A character is not 'underrated' if the plot draws attention to, or provides justification for, the fact that this character is able to keep up with allies that would otherwise appear to be more powerful than he is.
This trope also does not apply to a character who starts out as weak in combat as one would expect from someone with no training and poor equipment
, and grows strong enough to take on more powerful foes only after appropriate level grinding
This is most common in Role-Playing Games
due to the tendency to start new characters at the same level as the rest of the party to avoid situations where the new character Can't Catch Up
. Sometimes, this will be all that stands between a useful Guest Star Party Member
and a laborious Escort Mission
. Thus, any character who is introduced late enough in the game is likely to fall prey to this trope. When your main character is introduced as as a powerful warrior at level 5 near the beginning of the game and proceeds to grow stronger
through half of a game, he's going to be so powerful that it's difficult to justify any character being on-par with him unless they have a truly Bad Ass Backstory
Contrast Overrated And Underleveled
- Final Fantasy IV features Palom and Porom, a pair of Half-Identical Twins with formidable Wonder Twin Powers that allow them to wipe out regular encounters in an eyeblink. They provide Cecil with some much needed support when he's separated from his main party, despite being only five years old. They're at least presented as magical prodigies, but their ability to take nearly as much damage as an armored and experienced knight is unusual to say the least.
- Final Fantasy VI:
- The main characters battle an entire empire and win; they even have the empire soldiers comment on how powerful they are while negotiating peace terms. Not long after this the main characters meet Strago and Relm. Strago at least is justified as being pretty Bad Ass in his youth, but Relm is an 8 year old painter who somehow manages to make a strong party member. This is partially justified for both of them, as they are both mage characters whose gift with magic is justified by their being descendents of warriors infused with magical power during the war of the magi. This, however, doesn't explain why Relm manages to be only a little weaker with her morning star than someone who was one of the world's top generals before she started to Level Grind (Celes being a Magic Knight character herself).
- While not as severe a case as the two listed above, Setzer may also aply. Setzer is a ....gambler. That's all he is, he gambles a lot and is good with airships. He joins the party right as the main characters are about to attack a major facility in the Empire's capital city, and proves competent with a sword (or throwing cards).
- Final Fantasy IX does this with Eiko. While most of the strength of each character makes sense, Eiko is the second to last character received and the strongest healer in game... and is a little girl with no training. Her talent with Summoning is explained as her being the last of an ancient summoner tribe, but her power with healing isn't really explained at all. Though, considering that both of the summoners in the game are also healers one might presume that summoning and healing are both part of the same tradition. This still doesn't fully excuse a 6 year old with no combat experience being crushed by a giant multiple times in the first battle she ever fights and surviving.
- Final Fantasy X contribution to the list would be Tidus. The main team includes 3 experienced guardians, two of which managed to fight all the way to the Calm Lands, one completing his pilgrimage entirely, a member of the Proud Warrior Race who has been presumably training to be a guardian for years, and a White Magician Girl who can summon a flying monster at will. Tidus is a blitzball player with presumably no combat training at all. Of course they all start out at effectively the same level.
- Though this is an odd example. The experienced gaurdians all clearly are much weaker then they should be, compared to monsters in the calm land they supposedly faught in. Kamari is considered to be weak by the ronso, and Luna is no physical power house. It's difficult to say how much the odd power symetry is this trope vs another trope.
- Continuing the trend, Final Fantasy XII has the Kid Sidekicks Vaan and Penelo. while in-story they're barely more than street urchins, gameplay-wise Vaan has strength only beaten by Basch's and the strongest magical abilities of all male characters, and Penelo is a spellcaster on the same (quite high) level as Ashe, leaving the mystical elf-like Fran in the dust.
- Final Fantasy XIII has this as well. There is absolutely no explanation as to how Hope can be a better mage than Vanille, especially when Hope is a random kid with a boomerang, while Vanille has years of experience and, before she was turned into crystal, was one of the most dangerous people in the War of Transgression. This is after being granted magic from a god-like being. Before Hope gains his magic.
- Perhaps being a crystal for a millennium harms one's strength, or even resets it back to baseline?
- A big part of Leia's character arc in Tales of Xillia involves her constantly seeing herself as The Load of the team. Those who use her in combat will be baffled by this, since she's always a useful party member right from the start, being good at both physical attacking and healing. She also has some of the strongest Link Artes in the game.
- Valkyrie Profile averts this in Hard Mode, where every einherjar starts at level 1, but plays it very straight in Normal and Easy modes. Arngrim is a One-Man Army Guts Expy, who starts at level 1 because he's the first character you recruit. Other characters who should be significantly less powerful, like Lawfer (who regarded Arngrim as an unmatched genius whom his own skills could never approach,) Kashell (a fellow mercenary who never received anything like Arngrim's acclaim,) and Lucian (a former childhood friend of Valkyrie's human form, who became a thief and probably has no formal training and little practical experience in swordsmanship,) all start at higher levels because they're recruited in later chapters.
- Septerra Core mostly averts this since all the characters, except the begining three, are trained combatants in some way. However, Led, despite being in the military, is not trained as a fighter and hasn't seen real combat, making her perhaps a little too skilled when she joins the others.
- Chrono Cross manages to employ this without actually having character levels. Characters gain stat points after each battle up to a limit set by the number of bosses you've defeated (making your power in combat almost completely dependent on what point in the game you're at.) Characters always join your party with stats appropriate to the point of the game where they're recruited, meaning that some characters who ought to be particularly strong, like the Four Devas of the Acacia Dragoons, join your party with lower stats than later-joining characters such as Orcha, the head chef at the castle they're stationed at.
- Resonance of Fate manages a little of this and Overrated And Underleveled during the beginning of the game. Vashyron is an experienced war hero who taught the others everything they know about fighting, Zephyr is much younger, but was trained by Vashyron for some time and Leanne is the naive newbie and The Chick. Logically one would expect that their combat strength would be Vashyron > Zephyr > Leanne, but the game starts them out as nearly identical in strength (though vashryon does have a little more health, they're mostly interchangeable this early on). This wouldn't be too bad if the in combat banter of the first quarter of the game didn't make constant references to Leanne being inexperienced and supposedly weaker then the rest of the team.
- Averted in Dhuxs Scar. The main characters are a mercenary, a traveling merchant, and a, supposedly, teenage girl. These characters are *exactly* as strong as they should be according to their backgrounds. The mercenary with his high stats, and special abilities (including the only healing spell in the game) pretty much wins every battle single handedly. The merchant has 1/3 the mercenaries maximum health, does 1/4 the damage with regular attacks and doesn't have any special attacks to spend his MP on. Though he has some great abilities to help get cheaper or special items from merchants and can do comparable damage to the mercenary by throwing amulets only he can use, but the cost of purchasing all those amulets add up so rapidly that it's cheaper to let the mercenary deal with everything and put the savings towards healing items. Meanwhile the girl is every bit as worthless as one would expect from an inexperienced girl (usually), Her damage is so pathetic that if not overleveled many enemies will No Sell her attacks, she has the lowest health and defense and spends every single encounter defending and nothing else; to the point that having her in the party starts to feels like a game long Escort Mission.
- A minor, and very subtle, example occurs in The Legend of Dragoon. When Lavitz is replaced by Albert, Albert has the exact same level as the person he replaces. Since Albert is a king trained in combat from a young age his combat strength wouldn't be too odd for when he starts, if he hadn't explicitly stated that he learned everything he knows about combat from Lavitz. This seems reasonable until one visits the fridge and realizes that Lavitz was a much lower level when he joined the team, so if Albert had learned everything from him before the main game Albert should at most be equal to his starting level, not the level he was at when he was replaced.
- Lost Odyssey:
- Seth and Kalm are immortal beings who spent the nearly a thousand years fighting and developing as warriors, Jensen was picked by the strongest mage in the capital to be an ally for them, and Queen Ming (who is received only shortly later) is an immortal queen known for stopping an invasion of powerful magic beings single handedly with her powerful magics. Fighting along beside this team are... two little kids with no combat training at all. However the kids do join the party early enough that the main party isn't made too powerful by Level Grinding. Also, Cooke is a White Mage who's physical combat skills are just as bad as one would expect from a little girl, and when Mack joins the party he is a Magic Knight who's magic ability at least is justified as it's heavily implied that he was given spirit magic as a side effect of being possessed by the remains of a tribe with a gift for spirit magic. However, Mack is still a little too powerful physically for a little kid with no training running up and hitting you.
Some Fan Wank can help justify this further. It could be assumed Cooke's power with White Magic is from her wanting to heal her sick mother. Presumably she started studying to try to help her mother recover, it would be in character for her even if it's never explicitly stated in game. As for Mack, well since spirit magic has a heavy emphasis on strengthening yourself and weakening enemies one could possible claim that Mack's physical combat ability is actually partially a result of the same experience that gave him his magic, ie. his magic is making him hit stronger/faster then a young child should be naturally. Though that's pushing the limits of Fan Wank a bit.
- Completely, and skillfully, averted with Tolten. As a prince who presumably received training in combat throughout his upbringing he would be expected to be competent with a sword, and indeed the first time he is used in combat he is about equal to the rest of the party in strength and shown being capable of defending himself when forced to. However, by the time he becomes a regular party member he is the exact same level, making him far weaker than the others, who have been growing steadily stronger for another fourth of the game. He has to be placed in the back row where he can be protected to keep him alive through the first few battles and he can barely dish out worthwhile damage...luckily the combat system (ie, the ability to easily guard low health and vulnerable allies in the back row from damage temporarily) prevents his low level from making him a liability that dies all the time, and the leveling system ensures he gains levels absurdly fast so he will catch up to a useful level in very little time. This fits very nicely with his characterization, he is depicted as too afraid to fight, or stand up for himself, alone, and has to learn how to be a stronger/braver man just as he has to gain xp in combat before he is an equal to the rest of the team.
- In Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle , the main character is liable to become this. She gains experience and raises her level throughout the course of the game almost entirely through activities that have nothing to do with combat, likely leading the player to believe that her stats are simply a way of keeping score, with no function beyond the cosmetic. However, the game does contain combat, and by the time she reaches it, the Duchess is likely to be capable of fighting on par with the Awesome Fellowship, a highly experienced band of adventurers whose exploits shape the fates of nations. Her sudden increase in power is referred to in one of the endings (when her maid points out that she's probably strong enough by now to actually fight the Awesome Fellowship and win), but not explained. It could be because it's All Just a Dream. Alternatively, based on the endings where you side with the Anti-Paladins, it's possible that she was always that strong and just hiding her skill. There's also at least one point in the plot where she could justifiably pick up those talents — a Time Skip where she's acting as a bandit queen, of all things. Finally, given that the Awesome Fellowship just seems to take her increase in skill for granted, it could be that gaining combat power through unrelated adventuring is an accepted part of the setting being something like an RPG Mechanics Verse.
- Almost all party members in Persona 4 counts (except MC, Yosuke, and Chie since they are your starting members and join at low levels). All of them join right after getting their Personas and resting for about a month with obviously no experience in using their Personas. All of them join with the appropriate levels and skills for the stage of the game they're in.
- As far as later characters go, Yukiko is a weak physical combatant, Rise doesn't fight at all, Kanji was already a big bruiser, Naoto has firearms training, and Teddie is a Shadow himself. As far as their Personas? Maybe stronger Shadows make for stronger Personas?
- Its predecessor is somewhat better but still runs into issues later in the game. Yukari and Junpei have no relevant experience and join at level 1, Akihiko has two years of experience along with being a champion boxer and joins at level 9, Mitsuru has ten years of experience along with fencing training and joins at level 18, and Aigis is a dedicated war-machine who joins at level 25. All well and good, but then an eleven year old with two years of Persona possession, no combat experience, and some informal training joins with a level in the 30s, as does a dog who only just got his Persona and has no experience whatsoever, while the final party member, who has some experience but has been trying to kill his Persona for the last two years, joins in the early 40s.
- Adell's younger siblings Taro and Hanako in Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories. Especially since they were visibly level 1 NPCs beforehand and their levels suddenly shot up when they join.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Kurtis dies, but later shows up reincarnated as a Prinny and joins the party. Despite the fact that he should have started at level 1 (and that Prinnies are the weakest monsters in the game), he is actually higher in level than when he died, and on par with the rest of the party.
- Averted in Atelier Iris 2 with your last party member Viese, who joins at the third to last chapter at level ONE. Somewhat justified since the plot of the chapter she joins is to backtrack to previous areas.
- Kingdom Hearts:
- May possibly be the case with Ariel. One could try to argue that the rest of the group are actually fighting at an extreme disadvantage (not being use to fighting in water as fish-people) and so Ariel having grown up in a water world has the home field advantage. However, by that logic every single mermaid should be just as good in combat, if not better, than Ariel; which leaves one wondering why the giant city full of Bad Ass mermaids wouldn't have driven the heartless away long before our characters appeared.
- This also could possibly apply to Jack Skellington, whose original movie never once shows him fighting, or Aladdin, who in the movie is somewhat competent at Deadly Dodging and wields a sword at one point but without training. Both characters join Sora after mid-game and are possibly a bit too strong compared to their movies. But then again, it's ambiguous enough to mostly be forgiven (just how strong SHOULD a giant skeleton be in a fight anyways?)
- Your party in Radiant Historia consists of a bunch of soldiers with years of experience, a Rebel Leader Badass Princess... and Aht, a 9-year-old girl from a group of traveling performers. Not only is she the game's best healer, but her basic magic traps do damage on par with the more powerful elemental spells, and the upgraded versions are some of the most damaging abilities in the game.
- This seems to be the norm for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Koops is a timid young man from a small peaceful town. Flurrie is a retired actress. Yoshi is a hatchling. Yet, for some reason, they are all equals to Mario's other teammates (as well as Mario himself), which includes Adventure Archaeologist Goombella, ancient witch Vivian, Phantom Thief Ms. Mowz, and long retired Admiral Bobbery.
- In Ar tonelico, Aurica will constantly talk about how useless she is, how she can't do any good song magic, and how she's a D-Class (i.e. lowest on the scale) Reyvateil who's never even been assigned a partner before joining your party. In gameplay she's perfectly fine and can become insanely powerful. (And she's just as good as Misha, who's repeatedly talked up as uniquely gifted and exceptional.) She has severe emotional issues keeping her from achieving her potential, true, but those issues can't be overcome without help, begging the question why the supposedly kind and helpful church can't be bothered to even give her a partner to support her before the protagonist comes along.
First Person Shooters
- This can occur in the first Mass Effect 1 if you wait to rescue Liara as long as possible. Liara's strength is not that unreasonable if she is rescued near the beginning of the game when she expected to be saved (being a mage in a world where her people are presented as the strongest Biotic users). However, if the player waits to rescue her until near the end of the game she can come out of suspended animation as powerful as now-legendary characters, but the plot will still play her as the weak and inexperienced character she was suppose to be in the beginning of the game.
Turn-Based Strategy Games
- If one stops to think about it, all the characters in Halo 3: ODST are this. The main Halo franchise focuses on a Bad Ass Super Soldier who was picked from the best of the best, trained from childhood, underwent expensive and dangerous procedures to enhance his physical and mental abilities, and given Powered Armor equipped with shield technology stolen from the enemy. The characters in this game are...well trained soldiers. They are implied to be incredibly skilled even when compared to the rest of the highly elite ODSTs, but they are not super soldiers. However, the game engine is the same as Halo 3, meaning the ODST soldiers are just as powerful as Master Chief. They lose the shields (but replace them with a stamina system that makes them nearly as durable), and they can't punch through tanks like the Chief, but that's about the only difference. In contrast, ODST NPCs in the other games are nothing to write home about.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Eldar are supposed to have the most powerful psykers of any faction, with the possible exception of Chaos. In Rites of War, an Eldar psyker has to get to level 8 (the level cap is 10) before being able to use all four Eldar psyker abilities, whereas the psykers of the other two factions in the game, the Imperium and the Tyranids, get all four of their abilities at level one. After a key turning point in the campaign, however, you, playing as the Eldar, get to start recruiting Imperial units as well, including Space Marine Librarians, who of course have all four of their abilities at level one. So that means you can recruit a level one Librarian with more powers than a level seven Warlock Master.